Freedom of expression in Burma is under attack, and recent victims of the regime’s crackdown on speech include members of the Peacock Generation satire troupe, who have been arrested and issued steep jail sentences for their performances.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma (AAPP) have submitted an individual complaint to the United Nation Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to bring international scrutiny to this case, in which the Burmese government violates multiple international human rights standards.
“The Peacock Generation has the right to criticize the government and demand accountability or reforms,” said HRF research associate Prachi Vidwans. “They have the right to express themselves as artists and citizens. Yet the space for free expression in Burma is shrinking with every passing year.”
The detainees in question include Zayar Lwin, Paing Phyo Min, Zaw Lin Htut, Kay Khine Htun, Paing Ye Thu, and Su Yadana Myint. The first five of these individuals were detained for participating in traditional performances in which they criticized the Burmese military. The last victim, Su Yadana Myint, was arrested for recording and posting the performances on Facebook.
These performances, known as thangyat, are a traditional form of Burmese theater that incorporate poetry and dance. In the words of one defendant, Zayar Lwin, “It’s a tradition that lets the people tell the government and the rulers what is happening in the country, what has to be done and what has to be fixed.”
Thangyat troupes that wish to perform at venues must submit their lyrics in advance to a censoring committee. But the Peacock Generation has refused to do so, taking their performances directly to the streets instead.
“The arrest of these satirical performers in Burma goes against the basic principles of democracy. No one should be arrested for practicing basic human rights,” said Ko Bo Kyi, founder and joint secretary of AAPP.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.